Insane Clown Posse
w/ Moonshine Bandits and Kung Fu Vampire. $26 advance, $30 doors. 7 p.m., May 10. The Webster, 31 Webster St., Hartford, webstertheater.com
In early April, police in Greater Manchester, England began classifying in-county attacks on goths, punks and emos as hate crimes — just as they would attacks predicated on race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. This startling change in policy is heavily linked to the 2007 death of Sophie Lancaster, a 20-year-old English woman who was beaten into a life-ravaging coma by a small mob because she was goth. Violence and discrimination against members of music-born subcultures isn't unusual — a 17-year-old punk named Brian Deneke was murdered in Texas in 1997, and anti-emo riots unfolded in Mexico in 2008 — but this new reform marks one of the rare instances (if not the first) of a government body being on the side of a subculture.
In America, the exact opposite is happening with the FBI and Juggalos, the deeply loyal fans of the face paint-clad, Detroit-born hip-hop twofer Insane Clown Posse. A 2011 trend report from the National Gang Intelligence Center, a multi-agency organization that includes the FBI, marked Juggalos as a quickly rising "loosely-organized hybrid gang" with its hooks in 22 states (four of which officially recognized Juggalos as a gang). The report described Juggalos as a loosely knit group of ICP acolytes who were often homeless and involved in small crimes — simple assault, personal drug use and possession, petty theft, vandalism — and now beginning to try their hands at more definite gang-centric activities like felony assault, drug dealing, theft and robbery. Two cases were cited as evidence of Juggalos as a gang. In one, two suspected Juggalo associates were charged with the beating and robbing of an elderly homeless man in Oregon in 2010. In the other, a suspected Juggalo member shot and wounded a couple in Washington in 2011. This past March, the Freedom-of-Information-Act-focused site MuckRock obtained a hefty FBI-assembled file of press clippings of Juggalo-related crime, internal reports and internal e-mails all stacking evidence against the fan base. Authorities considered them to be gang-affiliated since at least 2008.
In August 2012, ICP architects Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope retaliated against these claims by announcing their intent to sue the FBI. The key goal, says Shaggy (a.k.a. Joseph Utsler), is to get Juggalos removed from the list of gangs. On a communal level, Juggalos have apparently been targeted so consistently that ICP started a newsletter (and related forum) called "Juggalos Fight Back: Family Under Fire," allowing fans to relay anecdotes of personal harassment and discrimination. One Juggalo was allegedly once told "We don't serve your kind here" by a gas station clerk, and a female Juggalo (i.e., Juggalette) allegedly lost custody of her daughter based on her music taste. On a financial level, Utsler says that major chains such as Spencer's and Hot Topic have stopped carrying ICP merch because it is now technically considered gang apparel.
Though Utsler can't remember when or where he heard of the report first, he felt differently about it. "At first, it was kind of like, 'Ah, that's pretty dope, you know what I'm saying?' They're calling Juggalos a gang. Sweet, [a] tougher image. We didn't think it was a joke," says Utsler. "But then all of a sudden, as quick as we said that, we started seeing the repercussions with it. If you're on probation or parole and you've got a Hatchet Man tattoo or an ICP shirt or a Twiztid shirt — anything affiliated with the Hatchet — that's a violation." Utsler tells a hypothetical story about a 14-year-old Juggalo getting caught with a weed roach. Said Juggalo won't just get ticketed for the roach but rather serve serious probation — if not jail time — for being tied to a gang. On top of that, he could be walking through a mall in "Shithole, Nebraska" and an MS-13 member might come after him after regarding Juggalos as a rival gang. "It's just fucking stupid," Utsler says. He won't deny that individual Juggalos are gang members or criminals, but he emphasizes that Juggalos on the whole don't constitute a gang.
This lawsuit marks one more bizarre turn in ICP's bizarre-turn-filled career. In their 22-ish years together, the twofer have teeter-tottered between being immensely adored (by Juggalos) and immensely reviled (by most others who know them). After using their crass and cartoonishly gory rap to build Psychopathic Records, a label that in turn helped build ICP's Michigan-based media empire (all with little help from mainstream means), the band could easily operate under the pop culture radar for the rest of their existence and do fine for themselves. Then, in 2009, they became the center of two key jokes. "Saturday Night Live" ran a segment mocking a ridiculous infomercial that promoted ICP's annual Gathering of the Juggalos festival, and the hallucinatory video and endearingly dumb lyrics for "Miracles" off ICP's 2009 record Bang! Pow! Boom! went viral. ("SNL" would parody that, too.) This resulted in a flood of fresh Internet-wide press coverage for the Posse that still hasn't let up. Almost all of this press has scolded or skewered the group and their fans, or gawked at both entities in confusion, but Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope have never been much to work themselves up over insults or step away from their detractors, adding to the weight of their fracas with the FBI. When ICP are taking bad PR so seriously, you know something is up.
Still, even if the group handily win their case tomorrow, a victory can't instantly rehab their bad public image in the mainstream. But as Utsler says, "There is no building up Juggalos in mainstream eyes 'cause your average middle-class person hates Juggalos." He then rattles off a memory about taking offense to learning that a reporter dressed up as a Juggalo for Halloween. "I've got a lot of Native American in me, and if I see people going out for Halloween as Indians, I'm just like, 'What the fuck is that? You're just going out as a person?' Juggalos are people. They're people, just [as] important as Obama, just as important as fucking anybody walking the face of this Earth, but it's just a bad rap. People just look down on Juggalos for some odd reason," he says. "They have families, they got kids, they hold down jobs, so what makes them less a person than anybody else?"